The Press last night carried an article about the owner of the Rhode Island nightclub where patrons were burned after some pyrotechnics went wild. As part of his sentence, he has to do community service, and it turns out he's doing some of it right here in River City with an organization called The Phoenix Society.
[Self disclosure--when I was in high school, my dad was in an accident in which he suffered serious burns. As part of his recovery he attended some meetings of the Phoenix Society, which is a support group for burn victims.]
At first blush this looks like a good thing. A man sentenced to community service for negligence that caused customers to suffer burns is working with a burn victim organization. That's all well and good.
But what bothers me about the article is that the nightclub owner, a former TV reporter, is doing what the paper calls a "PR campaign." He'll organize a firefighters bike ride across the country to raise money for the organization.
I'm not sure what the PR is. Event planning? More likely, as a former TV reporter, it'll be about getting publicity for this fund raising effort.
That's what 'burns' me. When PR finally gets mentioned without a pejorative adjective adjacent to it, the profession is minimized as mere publicity seeking. It strikes me as arrogant when journalists, who think they're experts on PR because, after all, they received lots of news releases and they know what news is, think they're capable of understanding PR.
Meanwhile, one burn victim's father quoted in the piece said if this nightclub ownin' TV reportin' community service fulfillin' PR wannabe really wanted to make a difference, he should "offer a public accounting of how the club was run, promote tougher fire laws, and work on holding fire officials accountable for enforcing fire codes."
In other words, address the problem, not just the image. Deal with relationships with key publics in this case, not your own battered reputation. Do some actual PR that goes well beyond mere publicity seeking.